TvT Build Order: Safe Reaper Expand into Cyclones

Last updated on Feb 21, 2018 at 19:30 by Wardi 2 comments

Table of Contents



Mirror match-ups will always create some of the most volatile situations in StarCraft 2 due to how quickly situations can spiral out of control when one player gains a small advantage. Terran vs Terran is no different - it isn’t even unheard of for a game to end because the first Reaper Icon Reaper gets picked off for one player, allowing their opponent to capitalize on the momentum and continue streaming early-game units across the map.

The recent meta game has seen TvT turn into a mass-Cyclone Icon Cyclone affair. With the Cyclone anti-air now strong enough to push away Banshee Icon Banshee or Medivac Icon Medivac harassment in the early game without Starport Icon Starport support, it’s possible to skip the Starport in build orders and throw all of your gas into Cyclones, which are extremely powerful early game due to their high damage output. If one player stops building Cyclones, the other can easily run in with the numbers advantage and find a quick victory, hence why we are seeing so much Cyclone vs Cyclone action lately.

This is a build I have taken from INnoVation, which seemingly allows you to safely expand on most maps and to follow up quickly into Cyclone Icon Cyclone production to keep you safe through the early game and into your mid-game Mech transition. I personally love it because I prefer to be the player with an expansion down early, rather than hoping for damage with a double-gas opening.


Build Order

As with all of our build orders, constant worker production is assumed unless mentioned otherwise and so all builds are based on supply count timings. Rough in-game timer points have been added at points of the build.

We start with a standard gas-first Reaper expansion:

  • 14 — Build Supply Depot Icon Supply Depot at the ramp to begin wall-off.
  • 15 — Build Refinery Icon Refinery.
  • 16 — Build Barracks Icon Barracks
  • 17SCV Icon SCV Scout - INnoVation uses his SCV to move across the map and scout his opponents main base.
  • 19 — Upgrade Command Center Icon Command Center to Orbital Command Icon Orbital Command.
  • 19Reaper Icon Reaper - unlike in other match-ups, you will not want to send this Reaper across the map, instead it will stay at home in the early stages of the game.
  • 20 — Build Command Center Icon Command Center - can be built on low ground.

The build then continues from this Reaper expansion:

  • 20 — Build Factory Icon Factory close to Barracks Icon Barracks for add-on swapping.
  • 21Reactor Icon Reactor built with the Barracks Icon Barracks.
  • 22 — Build Supply Depot Icon Supply Depot.
  • 22 — Build Refinery Icon Refinery #2.
  • 23 — As Factory Icon Factory finishes, swap it onto the Reactor Icon Reactor which has been built.
  • 24 — 1 Hellion Icon Hellion & 1 Cyclone Icon Cyclone - do not build any units from the Barracks Icon Barracks.
  • 29 — Build Orbital Command Icon Orbital Command as natural expansion completes.
  • 30 — From here on you will build only Cyclone Icon Cyclones from the Factory Icon Factory.
  • 38 — Build Supply Depot Icon Supply Depot - further Supply Depots should be built as required and will no longer be mentioned in this build order.
  • 48 — Build Command Center Icon Command Center #3 - this can be built on location if you feel confident with the map control you have (e.g. if your opponent did not open Banshee Icon Banshee, and if you can easily cover the third base and your main with the Cyclone Icon Cyclones).
  • 54 — Build Refinery Icon Refinery #3 and #4.

At around 5 minutes game time you should be sat with 6 Cyclone Icon Cyclones and 40 SCV Icon SCVs, assuming a game with no damage taken. This set-up with a Third Command Center Icon Command Center already finishing puts you in an amazing position to continue building up into a Mech army.

Continue to add the following:

  • ~73Factory Icon Factory #2;
  • ~73Reactor Icon Reactor on Barracks Icon Barracks to swap new Factory Icon Factory onto;
  • ~73Refinery Icon Refinery #5 and #6 (or as soon as Third Command Center is in location);
  • ~83 — 2 x Armory Icon Armory.

At this point the build order is more or less complete and you can continue into a mechanical-based composition for the mid-game, which will be discussed in detail in a later section.

Further notable building additions:

  • You will be starting +1/+1 when the Armory Icon Armorys complete.
  • Add your Starport Icon Starport before extra Factory Icon Factorys (use Barracks Icon Barracks to provide a Reactor Icon Reactor for it).
  • You will want to go up to 5 Factory Icon Factorys (2 Reactor Icon Reactors, 3 Tech Lab Icon Tech Labs).
  • After this set-up you can add a fourth Command Center Icon Command Center.

Scouting & Surviving the Early Game.

This build is designed to allow you to get an expansion up even against build orders which prioritize a faster double-gas, delaying a Command Center Icon Command Center. If you can deflect pressure from these builds effectively, you will take a natural advantage in the game due to your stronger economy.



The early game in TvT is extremely fragile, which is why you want to scout at 17 with an SCV Icon SCV to know what you are playing against, allowing you to be prepared and adapt slightly. The main scout will be whether your opponent is mirroring your Reaper Icon Reaper expand or is instead going for a double-gas opening. (Generally the 2nd Refinery Icon Refinery in these builds is taken at 17 supply, so it will be mining by the time your SCV Icon SCV scouts.)

INnoVation also likes to keep this SCV Icon SCV alive and on the map hidden, to re-scout at a later point (around 3 minutes), which can sometimes reveal the follow-up (whether a Starport Icon Starport is being built or not). When he scouts a Starport he adds an earlier Engineering Bay Icon Engineering Bay so that he can get Missile Turret Icon Missile Turrets to limit the scans needed against Banshee Icon Banshee play.

Very generically, if you scout some kind of proxy Barracks Icon Barracks play early (which usually involves Reaper Icon Reapers), you will skip the Reactor Icon Reactor and build a Marine Icon Marine to help hold (pulling SCV Icon SCVs with the Reaper to help deal with the initial units arriving at your base). The Factory Icon Factory can either build a Hellion Icon Hellion or a Cyclone Icon Cyclone - the Hellion comes out faster and can help to stabilize sooner, but the Cyclone will be much sturdier as a defensive unit (the 10 second build time is a lot, especially when your Factory is already slow). Without the Reactor Icon Reactor you can probably add on the Starport Icon Starport as well, which will give you a lot of options for counter-attacks once you hold (Medivac Icon Medivac to drop Cyclone Icon Cyclones across the map, or a Liberator Icon Liberator to punish lack of anti-air etc).

Beyond this your response to everything is very similar: mass Cyclone Icon Cyclones and feel their power!


Surviving the Early Game

The idea of the build is to get safely into the mid-game where it is all about the Cyclone Icon Cyclones and so to do that there are some important points of the build and match-up to point out to keep you on the right track. We have already addressed dealing with a proxy Reaper Icon Reaper play above, so we will be looking at playing against standard openings.

Against somebody who is also Reaper Icon Reaper expanding you are going to be more or less matching their production, so there is little to worry about here. It is the double gas openings that will outmatch your production quickly that you need to be on top of. The initial difference could be if they decide to make two Reapers while you only make one. A second Reaper enters the field at around 2:40, so you can move across the map with your own Reaper to scout until then. (Just don’t let it move command into your opponents first Reaper and die, because then you will be in a world of trouble.)

At 2:40 you want to be in a safe position either with your Reaper Icon Reaper at home or heading home - at this point you wait for the Hellion Icon Hellion and don’t move out again without it. The Hellion is designed to deal with a double Reaper set-up from your opponent as you should be able to micro against two Reapers to defend.

One advantage of your opponent going two Reaper Icon Reapers is that you will have the faster Reactor Icon Reactor and so your opponent can only make one unit initially, usually either a Hellion Icon Hellion or a Cyclone Icon Cyclone. By the time either of these units arrive at your base you will have a Cyclone out. The whole philosophy of this build is that because you are playing defensively you will always have an equal number of Cyclones by the time your opponent arrives with an attack, so you should be able to hold.

You will also be wanting to sit defensively because if your opponent does tech into a Starport Icon Starport, you need the Cyclone Icon Cyclones to be near your main base so you can respond quickly to any attacks. Cyclones alone will defend everything as long as you don’t lose units inefficiently - the biggest issue is getting out positioned (e.g. if a Cyclone pokes the front of your base, a common maneuver is for the two Reaper Icon Reapers to go into your main mineral line and pick away at SCV Icon SCVs). Being aware of possibilities like this and positioning units ahead of time will help - and make sure you have a depot or something for vision at possible Reaper entrances to give you a pre-warning of moves like this. (It will also generally help to see a Medivac Icon Medivac/Banshee Icon Banshee entering the main slightly sooner.)

You will naturally get into some fights which you need to be quick to target in as they will be involving Cyclone Icon Cyclones. With the high damage output, if you are not paying attention, you can quickly lose a Cyclone and then the Cyclone lead in a game if you are not careful (especially as Cyclone numbers ramp up). In early engagements you should be using the Reaper Icon Reaper and the Hellion Icon Hellion to try and soak the first few Cyclone shots while target firing your opponents Cyclone - whoever kills the Cyclone first will usually win the fight. Remember to try use the Reaper grenade to your advantage to stop a Cyclone from firing for a moment by having to reposition slightly!


The Mech Transition


Using the Cyclones

To continue from where we left off in the last section, Cyclone Icon Cyclone engagements are just weird in general because of how fast the units can die and how quickly that can turn around the advantage in a game. Cyclone micro is something you have to practice and get used to, the same way you have to practice micro for all units separately. The difference here is that it is so much more about reaction timing / quick decision making than the actual control of the units.

As some general rules, you will never want to fight into Cyclone Icon Cyclones which outnumber you or which have better upgrades than you. (Upgrades are insane on Cyclones, because they attack so frequently they get the benefit of the upgrade with every attack.) You will also never want to fight up a ramp unless you already have high ground vision. As an example, if you have four Cyclones against four Cyclones, by the time you get the vision to start attacking you will already have lost one Cyclone and you trade so badly from there it will never work for you.

The best way to gain advantages is to try and move in, target a Cyclone Icon Cyclone and then back away and wait for numbers to readjust. Backing off completely and repairing is never a bad idea with how quickly your Cyclones can be targeted down.

If your opponent has something other than Cyclone Icon Cyclones, you will generally be able to trade well if you can get in range. Locking onto a Banshee Icon Banshee and kiting backwards can often pick up a quick kill with few losses, or attacking into a Siege Tank Icon Siege Tank can also work decently if you split the Cyclone at the front away to minimize splash. (Depending on the positioning, the siege tank is unlikely to get another shot off if you can target it.)


Beyond the Cyclone Phase

This guide is designed to mostly talk about safely getting into the Cyclone Icon Cyclone stage of the game and so we will not dwell on the continuation into Mech for too long. A couple of key points: if your opponent is not building Cyclones, you probably want to make sure you have a switch into Siege Tank Icon Siege Tank production slightly sooner, to ensure that you can hold against a larger amount of bio units or against tanks of your opponent if he is able to get into position.

Air control can also be incredibly decisive in TvT - the player with air control will be able to build Liberator Icon Liberators which are extremely good at breaking Siege Tank Icon Siege Tank lines and overtaking positions. Once air control is lost in a TvT it is a difficult fight to get it back, so it is good to start prioritizing the Viking Icon Viking count early once the Cyclone Icon Cyclone stage of the game is over. Vikings will often be just as important, if not more so, than Siege Tanks and other mech units.

Your general Mech composition after Cyclone Icon Cyclones will be Hellbat Icon Hellbat-Siege Tank Icon Siege Tank-Viking Icon Viking, using Hellion Icon Hellions to harass around the map. As air control is obtained you can use Liberator Icon Liberators to push your advantage further.



To wrap things up, you have here an amazing build which fits into the current TvT meta in a way which allows you to be the defensive player at first with an early expansion, while not being in extreme danger to the usual double-gas harassment builds which is also seen often. It leads you into an early game which skips the Starport Icon Starport, using the Cyclone Icon Cyclones strength in the early game to defend attacks.

Past the opening stages you are left with what is currently agreed upon to be the strongest composition in TvT: mass Cyclone Icon Cyclone, with the opportunity to move further into your Mech composition while both expanding and being aggressive! The only downside is Cyclone wars can see advantages won and lost in split moments, but considering this is the standard meta, there is really no way to avoid it!



  • 21 Feb. 2018: Added our first Terran vs Terran build order: INnoVation's Safe Reaper Expand into Cyclones.
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